Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 3 -Thunder Force III-
Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 3 -Thunder Force III-
July 1, 1990
Buy at Official Site
It’s the year 1990, and Technosoft is going whole hog with Thunder Force, their most prominent game franchise after the success of Thunder Force II on the Sharp X68000 and Mega Drive. Thunder Force III is now in development, with more and greater content than ever before, and Toshiharu Yamanishi has just joined the Technosoft sound team, working with Naosuke Arai and Tomomi Ohtani on a landmark soundtrack for the company. And Technosoft is at a pivotal moment in its corporate history, being one of the most prominent third-party supporters of the new Mega Drive platform and pushing the limits of what the system is capable of. Yamanishi and Ohtani, in particular, would compose most of the new soundtrack, with sound support from Naosuke Arai, and in turn reveal much about themselves. And, ultimately, the music represents the Technosoft sound team at a crossroads in its lengthy history. The score and several bonus arrangements were compiled together on the Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 3 -Thunder Force III-.
The one instance of one of Arai’s compositions appearing on the album comes right at the very beginning, with “The Wind Blew All Day Long”. After this re-keyed reprisal of the Thunder Force II opening track, the select screen theme is certainly a quick customer, going well “Beyond the Peace” with its catchy rhythms and machine-gun bass line, underscoring a more ominous melody than heard prior. And, right after that, the album goes “Back to the Fire”, a composition and arrangement from Yamanishi. A catchy melody can go a long way in a shooting game soundtrack, but so can an effective arrangement, and that’s one area in which this composer was lacking when he composed for Thunder Force III. While the track has some meaty development, the percussion and synth sounds sound tinny and less powerful compared to Ohtani’s contributions heard later in the album. Perhaps the artist didn’t feel too sure about heading into the heat of action too soon.
Yamanishi keeps things relatively cool and collected in the fight against the “Gargoyle”. In this piece alone, some more of the classic baroque influence heard in the productions of other Technosoft composers can also be heard within; it’s an early testament that, more than any other composer on the sound team, Yamanishi is more adept at diversifying and attempting to master new styles all the time, as his future soundtracks would reveal. Just as soon as the player’s finished with baby steps on a forest planet, the soundtrack catches “Venus Fire” in its mitts, and brings an irrepressibly memorable melody to the forefront, with a vamp bass flying with the shrill synth and organ sounds Yamanishi knew would do best for this tune. On a similar level of cathartic madness lies “Twin Vulcan”, a short but sharp boss anthem that, while only comprising of a short half-minute loop, complements its mother track quite nicely with its fair share of metal-inspired rhythms and synth distortions.
When comparing such tracks, one begins to notice just the lack of skill and expertise with which the Yamanishi arranged his tracks, especially compared to the more meaty and ambitious tracks brought forth by Ohtani. This same duality of differing skill levels can be heard in the following two combinations of stage and boss themes. While Yamanishi’s “The Grubby Blue Dark” and “Truth” both benefit from his advanced melodic sense and general development, both Ohtani’s “King Fish” and “G Lobster” up the ante significantly in terms of percussiveness and, generally speaking, provide an immense contrast in attitude and intensity. Ultimately, a more effective combination of technically advanced arrangement and proficient composition would have benefited both composer’s early album entries in a whole number of ways, and this lack of cohesiveness would later be rectified in the sequel’s soundtrack.
While “Final Take A Chance” certainly doesn’t fare much better in arrangement quality, it’s quirky mid-track solo segments and higher level of intensity happens to be a sign of the new composer’s growing potential. The boss fight against the “Mobile Fort” happens to try nothing new — at this point in his musical development, Ohtani’s baroque metal rock style had already reached a peak with his compositions for Thunder Force II and Herzog Zwei, and the most he can do is provide some fantastic boss themes. After some brief yet brilliant game over and continue themes by Yamanishi (the game over theme reprised in Thunder Force IV), Ohtani over for the next two stage theme obligations, bringing to the album “His Behavior Inspired Us…” and a story about how “Hunger Made Them Desperate” — nice names, aren’t they? Tomomi’s highly harmonic compositional and arrangement style shines in both of these tracks, and they increase the pace of battle as the conflict against the powerful Orn Empire stretches on into deeper and more dangerous territory.
“Off Luck” brings the album towards its conclusion, as a strong guitar wail and glissandos of synth and bells combine with the might of the mighty drum kit and synth bass. Then we arrive at the “Final Point”. For a stage theme meant to show some stark finality, Yamanishi just doesn’t seem to pull through as much as he should, with a weak amount of development and a depressing lack of intensity — and none of the punchy flavor that his partner brought to this game’s soundtrack. As if there weren’t enough evidence of this divide in interests and execution, “Be Menaced by Orn” happens to be one of the most effective final boss anthems I have *ever* heard from a shooting game. It starts off with a grainy, distorted bass that soon opens up to percussion and a powerful guitar line, fed through falling keyboard lines as the final push against the heart of the Orn Empire commences. With the battle over, seemingly “A War Without End”, Yamanishi has certainly gained more experience under the mentor of Ohtani. With “Present”, the artist concludes the main soundtrack with his very own credits tune, giving a suitable sentimentality and naivety to the end of the conflict.
There are eight arrangements at the end of the album, which can be described as largely unsuccessful. “Back to the Fire” certainly sounds like a cheap demo track right from the start, with a largely irrelevant music box passage preceding the arrangement. Thankfully, though, the arrangement itself is concise and not long enough to overstay its welcome, a sharp contrast to the new interpretations of other stages presented thereafter. “Venus Fire” has just about the same amount of emotional drive as the original track, yet with more hackneyed low-quality samples make for a somehow worse execution. Admittedly though, this arrangement is also quite decent in its development and even has a wonderfully-dated solo near the end.
Curiously, both rearrangements of “The Grubby Dark Blue” and “Truth” go for a lighter feel in their arrangement, which sadly doesn’t work very well to the favor of a Thunder Force album. The former track feels too light for a hard rock stage theme, and the latter track goes for a jazzy feel that not only feels largely incompatible with the original setting and arrangement, but also can’t decide between being a rock arrangement and a jazz arrangement. Couple all of these faults with some more questionable instrumentation, and even arrangements of “Final Take A Chance” and “Be Menaced by Orn” simply lack the panache of their previously featured FM arrangements. They have all the heat and searing of a piece of milquetoast! On the contrary, Yamanishi’s arranging style works quite well for the placid and contemplative rearrange of “A War Without End”, as well as a cheesy and ironically placed J-pop variant on “Present”. However, such pieces are still underwhelming compared to his efforts on Elemental Master and, ultimately, Thunder Force IV.
Despite all of this criticism, Thunder Force III continues to be the most widely-praised Thunder Force soundtrack to this day. This is perhaps through a timely combination of the game’s financial success on a global scale, and partially through the memorable melodies featured throughout the soundtrack. Even keeping this in mind, it’s not hard to listen to the soundtrack and notice a troubling difference in quality between both composers. Yet even with his creatively destitute arrangements and stage themes, Yamanishi would go on to become the most diverse and successful musician the sound team ever produced, eventually outstripping even the experienced and robust Tomomi Ohtani himself. Being the first full release for a Technosoft original soundtrack also adds importance to this album, and it’s well-deserved for such a landmark game and soundtrack. Regardless of such widespread influence and regardless of being more than a footnote, the third time was not necessarily the charm for the Thunder Force series.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.